The connection between oral health and sleep disorders.
“How’s your sleep?”
Some patients may be surprised to hear this question coming from me, their dentist. Aren’t I supposed to focus on my patients’ oral health? Then what does sleep have to do with it?!
There are many facets to human health, including oral health. It’s important to understand how certain oral health abnormalities can indicate other potentially severe issues going on somewhere else in the body, such as sleep disorders.
Why is sleep important?
Quality sleep is a critical component of overall health and wellness. Think about how you might feel after a poor night’s sleep — tired, groggy, irritable, unable to think clearly or make quick decisions — these are just a few, but highly undesirable reactions when we don’t get enough sleep.
If your sleep quality is consistently poor, the impact on your health is even more severe. Because a sleep disorder or deficiency affects how we think and the timeliness of our reactions, lack of sleep can cause instant and major damage such as a car accident. Sleep deficiencies also cause more long-term effects that can increase the risk of chronic health conditions.
Getting enough sleep supports our bodies and cognitive function on many levels. Neurologically, adequate sleep is necessary for our brains and our emotional well-being. While we sleep, our brains are busy processing what has happened that day as it prepares for the next day. This is a critical time for our brains to form new pathways, which help us learn and retain information that we need. Studies show how sleep is vital for learning because it aids in our memory retention.
Good sleep is massively beneficial to our physical health as well. During sleep, our bodies’ cells and systems repair themselves and promote healing. Sleep plays a critical role in hormone balancing, the functioning of our immune systems, and especially for children — overall growth and development.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep disorders are disruptive to our lives and overall well being. It goes beyond just feeling tired. According to the Mayo Clinic, some symptoms of sleep apnea may include:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
Sleep Apnea and Oral Health
So let’s go back to why I’m asking about how you’re sleeping.
As a dentist examining my patients’ oral health, there are a few key indicators of sleep apnea: a wearing down of tooth enamel and surfaces caused by grinding teeth, red or inflamed throats which are caused by excessive snoring, and in some cases, the size and shape of the jaw structure and tongue.
As the treating provider who knows your oral health the best, I am often the first provider to flag this potential disorder for my patients. However, it’s important to note that for a proper diagnosis, you should see your physician or ask for a referral for a sleep specialist.
Oral Appliances to Treat Sleep Apnea
Once you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, depending on the severity of the condition, as your dentist I can recommend an oral appliance for treating mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.
The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine. While it is highly effective, it’s not the most convenient treatment for some people. Some patients report that the CPAP is uncomfortable to wear, it’s loud and disruptive to their partners, and it’s not always easy and convenient to travel with.
For some, an oral appliance is a much more comfortable and convenient choice for treating sleep apnea. An oral appliance looks like a high-tech mouthguard. We take impressions of your teeth to ensure a customized fit, and when worn properly, the appliance helps to keep your airways clear and open during sleep without the hassle of the CPAP machine.
The quality of your sleep impacts your life in so many ways. You deserve a good night’s sleep to help you feel your best the next day. If you think you may have sleep apnea, or if you’ve been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and you’re looking for an alternative to the CPAP machine for treatment, then please contact us to schedule an appointment and get you on your way to a better night’s sleep!